Spring Thinking: Looking Forward, into the Past

As I pondered a topic for this month, a friend suggested “spring fashions” and here’s what happened: 1) I decided fellow Risky Isobel’s expertise on Regency fashions so far exceeds my own, I should leave that topic to her, and 2) I started to suffer an almost rabid craving for spring in England. Is anyone else feeling it?

Spring comes earlier to England, at least to much of it, than it does to my own location in New England, in the U.S. I recall vividly my surprise to discover snowdrops blooming in London in January the first time I ever crossed the pond. This month, March, is when I usually begin to look for them here, and not this early in March, either, despite the very mild weather we’ve recently had here.

But, oh, in England! March is a month for daffodils and other spring flowers we are only still wishing for where I live. Here the green tips are only just beginning to show in the gardens. I found some potted primroses in my local market and had to buy them, even though they are already fading. This tiny watercolor by E. Daniels (it’s only 2 inches by 2 ¼ inches) graces a shelf in my office, a beloved souvenir from a past trip to England that gives me primroses year-round.

In The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare wrote: “Daffodils/That come before the swallow dares, and take/ The winds of March with beauty”. This image has lasted through the centuries. The seasons and nature offer a wonderful bridge between us and the past. The same kind of March winds that Shakespeare mentioned are roaring outside my windows today as I write this, even if I haven’t yet any nodding daffodils. These kinds of seasonal details help us as storytellers trying to make our historical fiction feel real. We need those threads of common experience that transcend the centuries to help anchor our characters and plots!

Several of my books are set in late spring, or at least begin then. In my first one, A Perilous Journey, I took a little liberty to have my characters find late-blooming daffodils even though it was May, but at least they were in the north on their way to Scotland…. I’ve always loved the playful cover created by artist Alan Kass for the original (OP) Signet edition of that book.  (It is only available now from Penguin Intermix as an ebook.)

The arrival of spring, when it finally does come here, probably won’t cure my craving for England (I am sooooo overdue for a visit!). However, it will help. In the meantime, I’ll go out and check the forsythia to see if it has started to bud. I’ll bring some branches inside to “force” into bloom and tide me over while I wait! I’m certain that’s something a Regency heroine might do, if I ever start a story in March. But not with forsythia, and not because it would already be blooming. It wasn’t introduced in England until after the Regency. A Regency heroine would have to use flowering quince, or pear, apple, or cherry branches from the orchard, or lilacs, or mock orange or….hmm, more research required. Perhaps she’ll just pick some daffodils!!

Where do you like to ferret out what would be blooming when in your stories? Or, what sources do you love to go back to for inspiration, not necessarily information? My favorites for inspiration include both the Country Diary and the Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady (Edith Holden), even though these are not from our period. For sheer visual inspiration, I’m currently enjoying a lovely book called The Writer’s Garden: How Gardens Inspired Our Best-Loved Authors, by Jackie Bennett with photography by Richard Hanson. A picture book that visits the homes and gardens of 19 authors, starting with Jane Austen at Godmersham and Chawton, it is a visual treat and a delightful way to travel by armchair! I highly recommend it, especially if you’re craving spring and it hasn’t come yet where you are!!





Posted in Risky Book Talk, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

In Search of Braces on the Bookshelf

Some of the Bookshelves in Sandra's StudyLike everybody who writes historical fiction of any kind (I imagine), I have collected a surprising number of research books over the years. Some are exactly the kind of books you would expect to find on my shelves – like the books on English country houses and those on the history of London; others are a bit more… shall we say “eclectic”? There’s a book on medieval warhorses (bought in 2001 when I was in Galway as an exchange student), a very comprehensive book on elements of castle building (bought in 1998 when I was still writing fantasy fiction), a book on secret orders throughout history, a catalogue of the Museo La Specola in Florence (a museum of historical anatomical waxes) (why, Sandy, why?!!?!?), and more than one survival guide.

I started collecting research books for my writing in my late teens, so some of those books I’ve had for over twenty years. (And one book has… um… wandered from my parents’ shelves to my own.) I have always loved knowing that I can probably find a book on whatever I want to look up on my shelves. Of course, with the internet, the game has changed completely. Still, I like to have the books on my shelves — just in case.

Now, when you write the kind of historical fiction where your main characters happily shed their clothes on a regular basis throughout the story, it’s always helpful to know how many layers they have to get out of and how these clothes work. For some reason, though, I had never dwelt much on the exact workings of male clothes, except for the obvious, like, if it’s Regency, you want him to pull off his shirt over his head.

That kind of changed when I started to write m/m.

So after doing some intense research on woolen jumpers, there I was in the middle of getting my two Regency guys out of their clothes, when suddenly it occurred to me, “Oh my gosh, what about braces!?!?!?”

What followed were several minutes of me staring intently at the aforementioned bookshelves, scanning my fashion books — only to realize that while I own a good number of books dedicated to female fashion (like Cunnington’s English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century or Bradfield’s Costume in Detail 1730-1930), I don’t own anything that is solely dedicated to male fashion.

Oh dear. (= A very British way to imply a crisis of epic proportions.)

But luckily,  Johnstone’s Nineteenth-Century Fashion in Detail (bought in 2008 in the V&A) came to my rescue. Though for the most part covering female fashion, it still has a few entries on male clothes. Hooray!

As the title implies, the book focuses on details of fashion and includes close-up photos of specific parts of clothes (even though you always get a sketch of the whole piece as well). Moreover, the notes give information about the construction of the depicted pieces of clothing in question, which is really helpful for understanding how these clothes were worn and how beautifully made they were. (I might have said “Ooooohhh!!!!” a couple of times in response to photographs of gorgeous ruffles down the sleeve of a dress or of the intricate embroidery covering the hem of a dress.)

And then I stumbled across these pantaloons.

a picture of Sandra's desk with the open book showing the pantaloonsAren’t they GORGEOUS? (And yes, braces. Look at the two top buttons on each side.)

Pantaloons, the accompanying text informs us, “were a form of close-fitting trousers or tights introduced into fashionable dress during the 1790s. They complemented the close-fitting lines of early nineteenth-century men’s coats as they were shaped to the leg, often ending just above the ankle where button fastenings or straps kept them in place. Although difficult to cut and put together without causing creases or wrinkles when the leg was moved, they could look extremely elegant. […] Pantaloons also brought the glamour of military uniform into men’s fashionable dress, especially when teamed with Hessian boots.” The decorated front, however, is unusual, which makes the author conclude that this particular pair might have been for military use.

Still, by that point, I had thoroughly fallen in love with that embroidered front (and all the possibilities it offered for some… eh… playfulness), so I decided they would be exactly the kind of thing my grumpy earl would wear if he wanted to impress somebody special. 🙂

And speaking of the grumpy earl: I got the revision suggestions back from my editor (who loved the story — wheeee!!!), so this morning, my desk features a new, crisp printout of the manuscript, all ready for me to get started on those revisions. Wish me luck!

Sandra's Author Desk

Posted in Clothing, Regency, Research, Writing | 6 Comments

The Life and Opinons of Ignatius Sancho

One of my favorite Georgian novels is The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (and not just because I also adore the movie with Albert Finney!). I own a Victorian copy in two volumes that I found at a used bookstore in Berkeley when I was in grad school. It was far too expensive for my scholarly pockets, but I had to have it (mostly because it had been signed by the original owner when he finished reading it in 1868 and again by a subsequent owner in the 1930s). All of this is a long way of introducing one of my favorite bits of triva about the novel. Ignatius Sancho (the famous black abolitionist and the first black man known to have voted in a British election) wrote Sterne, the author or Tristram Shandy, a letter asking him to write something opposing slavery. Sterne not only replied, but he kept the letters and they were both published posthumously in 1775. [Note: Tristram Shandy was originally published in nine volumes over seven years, this exchange took place before the final volume was published in 1767; the scene Sterne refers to in his reply in in the final volume.] It seemed fitting to share this exchange for Black History Month.

Ignatius Sancho

Sancho to Sterne
It would be an insult on your humanity (or perhaps look like it) to apologize for the liberty I am taking.—I am one of those people whom the vulgar and illiberal call “Negurs.”—The first part of my life was rather unlucky, as I was placed in a family who judged ignorance the best and only security for obedience.—A little reading and writing I got by unwearied application.—The latter part of my life has been—thro’ God’s blessing, truly fortunate, having spent it in the service of one of the best families in the kingdom.—My chief pleasure has been books.—Philanthropy I adore.—How very much, good Sir, am I (amongst millions) indebted to you for the character of your amiable uncle Toby!—I declare, I would walk ten miles in the dog days, to shake hands with the honest corporal.—Your Sermons have touch’d me to the heart, and I hope have amended it, which brings me to the point.—In your tenth discourse, page seventy—eight, in the second volume—is this very affecting passage—”Consider how great a part of our species – in all ages down to this—have been trod under the feet of cruel and capricious tyrants, who would neither hear their cries, nor pity their distresses.—Consider slavery—what it is—how bitter a draught—and how many millions are made to drink it!”—Of all my favorite authors, not one has drawn a tear in favour of my miserable black brethren—excepting yourself, and the humane author of Sir George Ellison.—I think you will forgive me;—I am sure you will applaud me for beseeching you to give one half hour’s attention to slavery, as it is at this day practised in our West Indies.—That subject, handled in your striking manner, would ease the yoke (perhaps) of many—but if only of one—Gracious God! – what a feast to a benevolent heart!—and, sure I am, you are an epicurean in acts of charity.—You, who are universally read, and as universally admired—you could not fail—Dear Sir, think in me you behold the uplifted hands of thousands of my brother Moors.—Grief (you pathetically observe) is eloquent;—figure to yourself their attitudes; hear their supplicating addresses!—alas!—you cannot refuse.—Humanity must comply—in which hope I beg permission to subscribe myself,
Reverend, Sir, &c.

Sterne’s Reply to Sancho
There is a strange coincidence, Sancho, in the little events (as well as in the great ones) of this world: for I had been writing a tender tale of the sorrows of a friendless poor negro—girl, and my eyes had scarse done smarting with it, when your Letter of recommendation in behalf of so many of her brethren and sisters, came to me—but why her brethren?—or yours, Sancho! any more than mine? It is by the finest tints, and most insensible gradations, that nature descends from the fairest face at St James’s, to the sootiest complexion in Africa: at which tint of these, is it, that the ties of blood are to cease? and how many shades must we descend lower still in the scale, ‘ere Mercy is to vanish with them?—but ’tis no uncommon thing, my good Sancho, for one half of the world to use the other half of it like brutes, & then endeavour to make ’em so. For my own part, I never look Westward (when I am in a pensive mood at least) but I think of the burdens which our Brothers & Sisters are there carrying—& could I ease their shoulders from one once of ’em, I declare I would set out this hour upon a pilgrimage to Mecca for their sakes—[which] by the by, sancho, exceeds your Walk of ten miles, in about the same proportion, that a Visit of Humanity, should one, of mere form—however if you meant my Uncle Toby, more—he is [your] Debter,
If I can weave the Tale I have wrote into the Work I’m [about]—tis at the service of the afflicted—and a much greater matter; for in serious truth, it casts a sad Shade upon the World, That so great a part of it, are and have been so long bound in chains of darkness & in Chains of Misery; & I cannot but both respect and felicitate You, that by so much laudable diligence you have broke the one—& that by falling into the hands of so good and merciful a family, Providence has rescued You from the other.
And so, good hearted Sancho! adieu! & believe me, I will not forget [your] Letter. [Yours]

Posted in History, Isobel Carr, Reading, Research, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Imaginary trips

I know there are reasons why college financial aid paperwork and income tax paperwork have to done at the same time, but I don’t have to like it!

When I am up to my eyeballs in Things I Don’t Enjoy, I take the odd moment to fantasize about travel. Lately I’ve been dreaming about a trip back to the UK.  I lived there for three years while on international assignment, but that was twenty years ago. I am really longing to go back and hoping it may be possible in a few years.

Of course I will want to revisit London and perhaps other major cities. But my heart is really in the countryside. Since I don’t have a lot of time to write about my favorite locations (have to get back to that annoying paperwork), I hope you will enjoy some pictures from some of my places I’d revisit in my dream tour.

I would definitely go back to Sussex and revisit favorite walks and pubs there.

Countryside in Sussex

I couldn’t miss Cornwall—so craggy and romantic.

Lands End in Cornwall, UK

The Cotswolds are how I imagine as the Shire, from The Lord of the Rings. 

Evening time near the pretty Cotswold village of Ilmington, Warwickshire, England

The Yorkshire moors—breezy and other-worldly.

View from the top of Hasty Bank into Bilsdale, North Yorkshire Moors

I think my favorite area may be the Lake District.

Stone Barn overlooking Ullswater in the English Lake District

Where would you most like to go, whether in the UK or elsewhere?


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Ahem. Yes. Hello

Boy, it’s been a tough several months for me, in case anyone was wondering. In fact, I’ve essentially missed making this post, too, because I thought I was supposed to post the 10th.

Hopefully things right-size in a bit. I’ve had my head down working on Surrender to Ruin, book 3 of my Sinclair sister’s series. It’s back from my editor and I’m going through and revising. I’m so, so close to being done!

I’ll keep this short, I have to get back to work. Everyone take care, and I promise I will have something of actual interest next time.


Posted in Anything but writing | Tagged | 2 Comments

Visiting the Elgin Marbles

In Bound By A Scandalous Secret, (December, 2016), my hero, Ross, surprises aspiring artist heroine, Genna, with a special visit to view the Elgin Marbles, which (to the best of my research abilities) were housed in a shed behind Burlington House in 1816, when my story takes place.

The Elgin Marbles are Classical Greek marble sculptures that once decorated the Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis of Athens. Originally the Earl of Elgin had obtained a permit from the sultan of the Ottoman Empire who then ruled Greece to make casts of the sculptures, but he noticed that the marbles were being burned for lime to use in other buildings. He decided to rescue them and send them to England. At the time, his acquisition of the marbles was met with mixed support. Some, like Lord Byron, were appalled at their removal. He wrote about it in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage:

Dull is the eye that will not weep to see
Thy walls defaced, thy mouldering shrines removed
By British hands, which it had best behoved
To guard those relics ne’er to be restored.
Curst be the hour when from their isle they roved,
And once again thy hapless bosom gored,
And snatch’d thy shrinking gods to northern climes abhorred!

1822 Engraving

Elgin suffered financial reversals and hoped to sell the marbles to the British Government, who eventually exonerated him from acquiring the sculptures illegally. Parliament purchased the marbles in 1816 but at a much lower cost than Elgin had desired. After the purchase, the marbles were housed in the shed behind Burlington House, which held the collections of the British Museum.

Because my hero Ross is the heir to a dukedom, he was able to arrange a private viewing for Genna. Here’s a snippet of that scene:

Huge slabs of marble lined the sides of the shed. Scattered around were ghostly figures. Headless. Armless. Standing. Reclining.
Genna stepped inside reverently. “Oh, Ross!”
She walked along the perimeter where the long slabs of marble that used to decorate the frieze of the Parthenon. The sculpted figures depicted all sorts of figures, men on horseback, on foot or racing chariots, women carrying items, for sacrifice to the gods, perhaps? Everything seemed in motion. Rearing horses, figures interacting, no two the same.
“It must tell a story,” Genna said. “I wish I knew what it was.” She dared to touch the sculpture, almost surprised the figures were not as warm as flesh they were so realistic.
“Here is a Centaur fighting a Lapith,” he said.
It was one segment, not a part of the long procession of figures that had been part of the frieze. Had there been more Centaurs? Did they tell a different story?

Lapith and Centaur

The marbles are now in a special room in the British Museum where I’ve been lucky enough to view them three times. They are massive and impressive!

Diane and pal Julie – photo taken by Risky, Amanda McCabe

The debate continues as to whether the UK should return the marbles to Greece. All I know is that the British Museum has taken excellent care of them and that there is no guarantee that they would even exist if Elgin had not seen to their preservation.

What do you think? Should the marbles go back to Greece or stay in the British Museum?

By the way, the last book in my Scandalous Summerfields series, Bound By Their Secret Passion, now has a cover and is available for preorder. It will be released in paperback March 21, in ebook, April 1.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

How Rich was Rich?

Money is not an acceptable topic of conversation among the gently-bred, so I beg forgiveness for breaking the taboo. We people our books with wealthy, dashing characters who are the equivalents of today’s super rich –dukes and earls instead of billionaire corporate tycoons –but haven’t you ever wondered, how rich was “rich” in our period? (Alas, I am STILL working on my revisions of The Magnificent Marquess, so no announcement yet that it is up and available! But very soon….)

An income of £10,000 was considered a threshold to “live the good life” among the Beau Monde, with a regular social life in London as well as the country. This is the income Jane Austen gives Darcy. How far beyond that level of wealth could we expect to find in Regency society? A modest estate in Ireland was said to have paid £1,200 a year, enough to live on “comfortably”. Yet in 1815, just the cost of maintaining a stable for hunting could equal that amount. Jane Austen’s Bennett family lived on an entailed estate that paid £2,000 a year.

 Land was the greatest measure of wealth, and in the Regency period, most of the usable land was tied up in great estates held by the peerage and the landed gentry, so acquiring new land ownership was difficult to accomplish. Land provided the income, through the rents and profit-shares from tenant farmers. At least 10,000 acres were generally needed to yield the requisite £10,000 of income.

A quick survey of the holdings of modern-day descendants of peers from our period yields some insight. The family seat of the Earls of Pembroke (current one is the17th), for example, is Wilton House outside of Salisbury, with 16,000 acres. The Earl of Bathurst’s seat at Cirencester Park is 15,000 acres. Those are single holdings. The current Duke of Devonshire owns 70,000 acres in three counties, the 175-room Chatsworth, and a 200-room castle in Eire that the family rents out. The Duke of Argyll has 81,000 acres. The rents from owning land in London also provided a source of great wealth for some. The Portman riches stem from 100 acres of London real estate held since 1553.

What were other sources of wealth? Government or court appointments with a nice yearly stipend could supplement a rent-based income quite handsomely. There was no investing in a stock market as we know it today, but Miss Crawley in Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, has £70,000 in the 5% funds, which were securities in the national debt (kind of like U.S. Treasury Bonds). This would have given her a yearly income of £3,500. Other investments, for the less well-to-do, were the consols, which paid 3% and were a set of annuities that had been consolidated into one fund. Brummel was said to have made £30,000/year with successful betting on horse races, until his luck turned against him.

How much was a pound worth? Sources vary on this, and equivalents are hard to fix, since modern life is so very different in most ways. How do you compare the cost-of-living? No one is buying carriages these days, and we aren’t using candles to light our homes. I have notes that say a Regency era pound was worth about $50 in 1990’s dollars, but I have also seen a valuation of $33 given for 1988 dollars, and more than twice as much elsewhere! If anyone has more recent figures, or different info, please share? If you use the $50 value, Darcy’s annual income was $500,000 –a handsome sum, to be sure, but far from princely. A man who had an income of £30,000, however, which many of the greater peerage did, had 1.5 million dollars coming in. Hm, maybe now in 2017, the $100= pound valuation does begin to look appropriate? Inflation!!

Taxes were perhaps the heaviest burden on the English populace. Such a vast array of daily necessities and features of good living were taxed, the ability to have or use them was itself a fine mark of one’s status. In The Magnificent Marquess, my heroine is impressed when she sees that Lord Milbourne, my hero, is extravagantly burning candles in his music room –during the day!! Everything from candles to soap was subject to taxation, including windows and servants. Male servants were subject to a higher tax than females. Employers paid a guinea per male servant (21 shillings, or £1.1), a tax instituted in 1777 and not lifted until 1937.

Servants were a necessity for the upper classes. Since a large country estate would include a sizeable house, plus park, gardens, stables, paddocks, and a home farm in addition to all the tenant farms, the army of servants required could be large. Blenheim was said to have employed 180 servants, including both indoor and outdoor. Lord Fitzwilliam employed 70 servants to keep Wentworth Woodhouse running. In the 18th century the “average” number of servants to keep a large country house running was 40.

The wealthiest landowners might own several estates in multiple counties, and while house servants might travel with them from site to site, the servants tending to the physical aspects of each estate stayed there to tend to their continuing duties, requiring a separate set of such workers for each estate. This would include stewards, gamekeepers, gardeners, parkkeepers, dairymaids, stablehands, and a minimal house staff, etc.

The cost of living fashionably in London varied, of course. The Duke of Northumberland might spend £10,000 to run his London establishment in 1810, but if you were of more modest means, like the Bennetts, the average cost of running a London townhouse would be about your entire income for the year, so you would rent one, and only when necessary.

The cost of maintaining a London house did not include such things as a season subscription to a box at the Royal Opera House, which could cost as much as £2,500 (I assume depending on the box location). A 3 month subscription to Almack’s for the weekly Wednesday night dinners with supper “only” cost 10 guineas, or £10.10, but was worth a great deal more in terms of social consequence!

That £10 doesn’t sound like much, but consider that a governess might only be paid about £12 per year (although she also received room and board); a Private in the military might only earn £7.7 per year after deductions for food and some other expenses. Compare the Bennett’s income to that of an average clergyman, who might be paid £150/year, or less. Curates might earn £50/year if they were fortunate. Compare that to Byron’s rent for his London lodgings, at 4 guineas per week, or about £230 a year.

Other trappings of wealth were also dear. A carriage could cost between 45 and 100 guineas ($2,475-$5,500 @ $50=pound), depending on the size and style; a pair of horses to pull that carriage could cost another 50-65 guineas. (Then you might also need a coachman to drive it.)   Renovations to a London house or country seat could run into hundreds of thousands of pounds: the Londonderrys spent £200,000 on Holdernesse House, and the Lambs spent £100,000 on Melbourne Park. Lavish entertaining was expected of the rich. In 1799 the Duke of Rutland turned 21 and spent £5,000 for food and entertainment for a 3-day celebration at Belvoir Castle.

If you’d like to read more, here are some additional sources for information of this sort:

http://web.stanford.edu/~steener/su02/english132/conversions.htm  (using the 1988 valuation, offers tables to compare Jane Austen characters’ incomes and wealth, by books, also offers a list of typical Victorian incomes.

https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/tag/cost-of-living-in-regency-england/ (excellent article focused on Sense & Sensibility, but also including links to additional articles)

http://haleywhitehall.com/wealth-position-regency-england/  (nice article contrasting Darcy and Bingley to explain their respective social status)

How rich are your characters, or favorite heroes and heroines you’ve read? How rich do you want your fantasy heroes to be, or don’t you care? Have any favorite anecdotes of Regency extravagance you want to share?



Posted in History, Jane Austen, Regency, Research, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

There Will Be Grumpy Earls…

Teaser image for The Return of the EarlLast evening I finished the first draft of my new Regency story, and I’m still in that finished-the-book stupor that makes you feel as if your head is stuffed with wool. So instead of attempting to write something clever about mummers’ plays (which I mention in The Return of the Earl – and I mention them with SO MUCH GLEE because it’s a topic I did some research on for my PhD thesis, and to me, it’s always such a delight when I can make use of some of my older research 🙂 )…

Sooooo, instead of trying to write something clever about mummers’ plays, I’m going to give to you an excerpt from the new story. With a grumpy earl!! (See picture above)

The Grumpy Earl has come home after some years of absence and is majorly disgruntled when he finds his former lover has become his stablemaster. So, of course, Grumpy Earl is even grumpier than usual, but he will not give anybody the satisfaction of staying away from his own stables & thus goes to said stables the next morning & bellows for a horse. Which makes the stablemaster come over.

And now, finally, for the first time in thirteen years, Con could clearly see those two-toned eyes—muddy-green and stormy-blue—and for a moment, he felt quite dizzy at the familiarity of them. He could almost hear his memories battering at their cage. If he left them out, now, here, in front of this man, he would disintegrate and shatter into a million pieces.

He would be damned before he gave the stablemaster that satisfaction.

“You want to ride?” the man asked.


The stablemaster’s brows rose. “Have you had any practice in the past years?”

Con compressed his lips and thought about snapping some reply about a stablemaster’s proper deference to his employer. But he wouldn’t give the man the satisfaction of letting him rile him either. Oh no!

Thus, Con just gritted his teeth and forced out, “Of course, I have.”

Bryn’s lips twitched briefly as if he had to hold back a smile. At that tiny movement, Con felt an unexpected tightening of his stomach.

How he had loved to kiss those lips when he had been younger! He had loved chasing Bryn’s smiles with his lips and tongue, had particularly loved sucking on that slightly plumper lower lip.


Angry at himself, angry at his damned stablemaster, Con pushed those unwanted memories aside.

Lifting his chin, he gave Bryn his haughtiest look.

But was had proved to be such an effective weapon in the ballrooms and drawing rooms across the continent, turned out to have very little effect on his stablemaster.

“If you say so.” Bryn’s tone was easy, and he didn’t give any indication that he was in any way greatly perturbed by his employer’s demeanor. Instead his eyes briefly flicked down Con’s body, assessing him as if Con were a blasted horse at Tattersall’s.

“What?” Con snapped.

Bryn’s gaze was thoughtful. “You used to have a good seat.” His eyes twinkled, before he turned and began to walk across the yard. “I hope you didn’t forget everything you’ve been taught,” he threw over his shoulder.

Con spluttered with outrage, a hot flush blooming in his cheeks.

How dared he?

Bryn threw him another glance over his shoulder—and Con’s outrage mounted as he spotted the grin on the man’s face.
“Are you coming, my lord?” Bryn called. “I have a few horses you might find suitable.”

Grimly, Con stomped after him. By Jove, how he wanted to throttle the man!

He tried to imagine it: Putting his hands around Bryn’s throat and—

His hands on Bryn’s skin.

Touching Bryn again.

Running his fingers over the strong neck down into the soft, vulnerable hollow at the base of his throat…

This time, it wasn’t just his stomach that tightened, and Con cursed himself, cursed the Fates, but most of all, he cursed his stablemaster.

Damn the man!

Posted in Writing | 3 Comments

Georgian Housekeeping

As a writer and a historical re-enactor, one of my favorite things is researching the minutia of everyday life. It’s all well and good to know when a major battle took place and who was king, but really, my characters are more likely to be concerned with removing a stain from a carpet or managing the dairy maids (especially as I’m currently working on a book with a country setting where the heroine is burrowing into the estate like a tick and making it all her own).


I just found a great new resource to aid me (and my heroine) in this endeavor: The Housekeeping Book of Susanna Whatman (1776). It’s a tiny little book put out by the National Trust (God bless the National Trust!) that contains one gentry woman’s notes about housekeeping and managing servants as well as foresection that gives lots of additional information to help you understand what might otherwise be obscure in her directions. It also reinforces information that I’ve read elsewhere indicating that servants had become very had to retain by this point. One of the reasons for the book was the fact that most of the maids appear to have stayed less than two years, even though the pay seems to have been on the generous side and the fabrics chosen for their clothing above the quality usually provided.

The servants mentioned include a housekeeper, cook, laundry maid, housemaid, and various obscure mentions of male servants providing occasional assistance. We also know there was a governess (based on the bills section). Mrs. Whatman does not appear to have had a lady’s maid of her own. All reference to the care of her clothing mentions the housekeeper and the maids. Apparently the housemaids were seen as having a great deal of free time when their actual work was done and they could thus be employed in a plethora of other capacities about the house.

To touch back on my last post about clothing storage, when the book mentions the schedule for closing the curtains/shutters to keep the sun off the furniture, the “mahogany presse” in every bedroom is specifically mentioned and one specific reference is made to a servant’s bed in the “little dressing room” adjoining one of the bedrooms.

It also contains prices, and oh how we all love prices! Susanna was married to wealthy man who owned multiple paper mills (but who appears to have lived more as a gentleman, concerned with improving and expanding his estates than a manufacturing baron). Essentially, we’re dealing with a man who might well have been Bingley’s father. His income was £6000 a year (£4700 of which was from the mills). His expenditures were only £1500 a year (which may well explain how one of his children married into the local aristocracy).

He purchased an ancient manor house with 86 acres which adjoined his estate, as well as another paper mill from the Earl of Aylesford for £7423 and then spent an additional £5000 refurbishing and outfitting the house. To put this money into perspective, he had a portrait of Susanna done by Romney (a prominent painter of the day) which cost £25.

Under BILLS, we learn that in 1781, food cost £222. Other household bills totaled 325. Sevants’ wages and clothes came to £211, the stables to £184, and Susanna received £105 in pin money. Mr. Whatman’s own personal expenses came to £143.

Is there anything about historical housekeeping that either baffles or intrigues you?

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Who needs an excuse for trifle?

trifleMy daughters and I have a tradition of trying new recipes out for New Year’s Eve dinner. This year, I’d planned to try a new macaroni and cheese recipe (with smoked gouda, bacon, and peas) followed by a chocolate brownie and raspberry trifle. But I was feeling under the weather and so we just made the main dish and had ice cream for dessert.

Having the ingredients around (but really, who needs an excuse for something like this), I finally made the trifle this last weekend. It is delicious! I would definitely make it again, especially for a party as it looks festive and it makes a lot (though we are not getting tired of it)! Here’s the recipe: Bigger, Bolder Baking: Chocolate Raspberry Trifle. You could use your own brownie recipe for this, but I used the recommended Best Ever Brownie Recipe and will likely be making that again, too.

This recipe just popped up on my Pinterest feed, so I pinned it because chocolate and raspberries is one of my favorite combinations. Now it’s also making me think about the history of this type of dessert.

Although the word “trifle” has been used for desserts longer, the trifle as we know it (layers of cake, custard and cream, often with fruit or jam) became popular during the 18th century. Syllabub, which could be a dessert on its own or used as part of a trifle, is cream whipped with fruit juice and/or alcohol.

Here’s a cool NY Times article on the evolution of trifle.

Martha Lloyd, Jane Austen’s friend and eventually sister-in-law, lived with Jane Austen at Chawton and carried on many of the responsibilities of housekeeping. Here are recipes for trifle and syllabub from her collection of recipes. The Jane Austen Cookbook has a modernized version I will have to try, maybe for another blog post.

Martha_LLoyd_TrifleThe recipe calls for Naples Biscuits, and I found a recipe for Naples biscuits at History Hoydens, where they are described as similar to Lady’s Fingers.

Here are a few other period recipes I found which I may want to try sometime:
Whim Wham, a Scottish Regency trifle (such a fun name, and it has Scotch in it), and a
trifle recipe from the Mrs Beeton (1861).

In my googling, I also ran across some delicious-sounding modern variations: a tipsy trifle with peaches and cream and pumpkin and gingerbread trifle.

Have you ever made a trifle? Do you have a favorite recipe?



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